The Devils (1971) Review

Spoiler-free so you can read before you watch

The Devils (1971) Review

Horrorific content by adrian on March 10th, 2019 | Movie Review | Possession, Exorcism, Religion, Psychological

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It's about priest who is accused of being a satanist by an obsessed and sexuality repressed nun.

The Devils was directed by Ken Russell (who also directed Altered States, Trapped Ashes and the bizarre Lair of the White Worm) and stars Oliver Reed (from The Brood, The Damned, Burnt Offerings and The House of Usher),  Vanessa Redgrave (from The Last Will And Testament Of Rosalind Leigh) and John Woodvine (from An American Werewolf In London). 

Hell holds no surprises for them.

The Devils Review

The Devils is a movie by Ken Russell based on real events, according to real church records, that occurred in 1634 at the Ursuline convent in Louden, France. This movie got on my radar after watching another movie based on the same event, a Polish film from 1961 called Mother Joan of the Angels. The Devils takes place during the time leading up to the priest being burned at the stake and Mother Joan takes place after.

It's crazy controversial, originally given an X-rating, was banned in several countries and was heavily edited in others. The original uncut version is extremely rare and isn't even available in many countries. There are several versions of the film floating around, most have two particularly controversial scenes edited out. One scene is called "The Rape of Christ" and shows a bunch of naked nuns running around screaming, fornicating and even humping a giant crucifix. The other shows the obsessed nun, Sister Jeanne, masturbating with a burnt bone pulled from the priests ashes shortly after his execution.

But it's tough to find a version with both of these scenes in their entirety. The Blu-ray copy I bought shipped from overseas but only contained half of the masturbation scene, just enough to insinuate what was about to happen. And the quality of both controversial scenes were poor, they were unmastered, like the deleted scenes you sometimes get as bonus content on DVDs.

Roger Ebert put it best back in 1971: "A burning at the stake, an afternoon in the rack, headscrews, a douche with boiling water, nails into hands, induced vomiting, ripped tongues, dead babies, human target practice, possession by devils, rape, transvestism, nude orgies in the nunnery. Put them all together and they spell Committed Art--because these are modern times and I certainly hope none of us is opposed to truth." He gave it a thumbs down. One of the things he had a problem with was how all of the nuns were young and busty. I was personally OK with that part!

Controversy aside, the movie itself was intelligently made and used its controversy as a platform to showcase the rampant political corruption within the church at that time. The priest was of course not possessed by the devil, a rival cardinal simply used the claims against him as an opportunity to get rid of the priest in order to increase his own power. And he exploited his power to abuse many innocent women.

All of the characters are big personalities, they're bold, direct and loud. they're all supremely confident and defend their convictions aggressively. But there's no real hero. Father Urbain Grandier plays the hero role, but his character is extremely flawed. His development arc starts as a corrupted official who exploits his local celebrity to fornicate with, and even impregnate, local women. Later he kinda becomes a good guy, but his actions are never really genuine.

Overall, a very powerful and hypnotic film. Lots of boobs, debauchery and depravity. Great score too. When things get chaotic so does the music, it's like a rabid orchestra angrily warming up.

This movie definitely leaves you feeling uncomfortable. It was amazing.

Worth Watching?

Depends. It's a powerful film that would make a natural double feature with Mother Joan of the Angels, just as long as you're not overly sensitive about religion. And if you do decide to watch it, and you like the depravity aspect, a good follow up would be The Demons, an erotic knockoff of The Devils from 1973 by the infamous Jesus Franco. Think occasional nude nuns are bad? Try full frontal within the first 15 minutes. He makes Ken Russell look like William Castle.

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